As she drove the girls in her new Scouts BSA troop to a campout last spring, Heather O’Bannon heard plenty of stories of family distress and dysfunction.
“I’m sitting there going, ‘Wow, Family Life merit badge is going to be really interesting,’ ” the Hilliard, Ohio, Scoutmaster and merit badge counselor recalls.
In fact, the Eagle-required badge can be both interesting and challenging for many Scouts, no matter what kind of family they come from. In requirement 6 alone, they must discuss with family members such heavy topics as substance abuse, sex, family finances and family crises.
Handled well, however, the badge can be one of the most important a Scout will earn. O’Bannon and merit badge counselor Joe Debosik of Peru, Ill., offer some tips.
Counselors should remember that today’s families often look more like the Pritchetts from Modern Family than the Cleavers from Leave It to Beaver.
“Not everybody has a mom and dad at home,” Debosik says. “Some people have two moms, some people have two dads, some people have a grandpa, some people have an uncle, some people have just their brother.”
Debosik recommends using the word “family” more than “mom and dad” when you’re talking with Scouts.
No other badge requires as much family involvement as Family Life; the Scout must do nearly every requirement with his or her family.
“That’s a shift for parents, and that’s a shift for Scouts,” O’Bannon says.
On the plus side, if this is one of the first badges a Scout earns, the parents will gain an understanding of how the merit badge program works.
It’s important to make sure family members understand what’s expected of them, especially when they’re juggling multiple responsibilities. In rare cases, the counselor might have to do even more.
“If the parents are divorced or they just don’t have time to do it because they’re working or there are other siblings, you can always reach out to other people in their family,” Debosik says.
Although family projects and meetings take up much of the badge, O’Bannon believes requirement 7 — discussing what makes an effective parent — might be the most important one. She wants Scouts to think both about what makes their parents effective (or not) and what could make themselves effective parents a decade or two from now. When Scouts complain about their family situations, she’ll say, “What kind of roles do you want to have when you grow up? Think about changes that you want to make now to make your life better later.”
When her Scouts were complaining on that car ride last spring, O’Bannon talked about the importance of open communication.
“I just gave them a little food for thought, something to kind of think about,” she says. “Then when they’re ready, they can come back.”
And then they’ll be ready to earn one of Scouting’s most important merit badges.